|WAITING FOR LOVE
Series: Waiting - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 19, 2017
In January we began in... Genesis - the first book of the Hebrew Bible. God creating everything. Today we’re in Malachi - the last book of the Hebrew Bible. We’re beginning a new study which we’ve called “Waiting” - God’s people waiting for what comes next.
We are in Malachi - which unfortunately one of those books that’s easily overlooked and seldom preached from. Usually we run into Malachi because we didn’t turn far enough to get to Matthew. So, if you get to Matthew - scroll backwards a tad and you’ll find Malachi.
Before we get to chapter 1 - we need to grab some background on how Malachi connects with what we’ve been looking at and how Malachi connects with us today.
Looking at the chart. Last Sunday we looked a Ezra and the return of God’s people from 70 years of the Exile. Starting with Zerubbabel in 538 - to rebuild the Temple. Then the second return comes with Ezra in 457 - what was an attempt to rebuild the spiritual life of God’s people. Then the third wave of returnees in 444 with Nehemiah. The main purpose of which was to rebuilt the walls.
During the time of Nehemiah is when Malachi was around. Nehemiah records the last historic events of the Old Testament - . Malachi gives us the last prophecy - which is about the coming Messiah. We’re at the end. What comes next is a lot of waiting for what comes next - God to come through on what God said He would do.
During those 400 years of waiting - starting in the 330’s BC - Alexander the Great comes through - takes out the Persians and captures Jerusalem. While Alexander is somewhat tolerant of the Jews he basically tries to Hellenize them - infusing Greek culture and religion.
Then - moving right on the chart - about the 190’s BC - the Greek rulers go all out trying to Hellenize the Jews. Which results in them being cruelly persecuted - copies of the Scriptures being burned. Which leads to a revolt led by the Maccabees which sets up a line of rulers of revolting Jews. Then in 63 BC - under Pompey - the Romans march in.
Point being that for 400 or so years God’s people are living under oppression and persecution and turmoil and uncertainty.
What’s important to grab on to in all that history - is that for these 400 years or so - politically - religiously - culturally - economically - there’s 400 years of oppression and persecution and turmoil and uncertainty. 400 plus years of God’s people waiting for God to do what God said God would do and wondering why He hasn’t done it.
Have you ever found yourself waiting for God to do something?
God’s people, while they’re waiting, they’ve got questions. As we often do. There are more questions per verse in Malachi than any other book in the Bible.
Malachi is also one of the most argumentative books of the Bible. A lot of the book is a give and take between God’s people with their questions and God trying to help His people understand where He’s coming from.
Ever argue with God because you’ve got questions about what God is doing or not doing?
Which is encouraging and helpful for us. Many of the questions God’s people were asking back then are a lot of the same questions people today around us are asking. Maybe even questions we might be asking. Just saying.
Malachi - bridging this gap of silent years - at its core is a love letter from God. At the beginning of those 400 years it’s a letter from God full of hope, encouragement, and love to sustain His people… and us.
[The Messenger] Malachi 1:1: The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.
We don’t know a whole lot about Malachi.
Tradition says he was a member of the Great Synagogue. Which was an assembly of 120 scribes and prophets that met under the leadership of Ezra. The Great Synagogue fixed the order of the books of the Hebrew Bible - established patterns of worship and prayer - had a huge impact on Judaism even up to today.
Tradition says that Malachi was probably a part of all that. Some believe he was a priest. But we just don’t know for sure.
Malachi’s name means “the Lord’s messenger” - which he was.
More than any other prophetic book - in Malachi - well over three-quarters of the book is spoken by God. “...says the Lord of hosts” is recorded 20 times. Meaning this is God’s message.
Meaning that Malachi is about the message not the messenger.
“Oracle” translates a Hebrew word that has the idea of carrying something that weights a lot. God’s revelation to His people is not to be taken lightly. It’s heavy. To carry God’s message is a heavy responsibility.
The oracle is God’s word for Israel through Malachi - the Lord’s chosen messenger. God answering the questions of His people.
[The Message] God’s message - verse 2: “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
What weights on God’s heart? God speaking to His people. “I love you.”
Almost 2,500 years before Bill Bright and the 4 Spiritual Laws: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” God said it first: “I love you and I have a wonderful plan for your life.”
That’s the heart of this book. God’s love for God’s people. For us. It’s where God begins.
“Love” translates the Hebrew verb “a-ha-vah” - which basically refers to the kind of affection and care that someone shows to someone else. Not necessarily physical.
Like the kind of love that a parent has for a child. Abraham had “ahavah” for Isaac. Or like Jonathan had “ahavah” for David - brotherly love. Or like a whole group would have “ahavah” for someone like their king - David. Or loyalty between allies. Hiram, King of Tyre, had “ahavah” for King David. They had good a good relationship. So King Hiram wanted to help David’s son build the Temple.
The prophet Hosea compares God’s “ahavah” to the love of a husband for a wife or a parent showing “ahavah” for their child. Very relational. Very powerful.
In Deuteronomy 7, Moses tells God’s people that - out of all the people’s on the earth - God has chosen to love them - to uniquely treasure them because of His “ahavah” for them. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).
It’s not because they earned or deserved it. - not because they’re the most numerous - in fact quite the opposite. God simply chooses to do so because it’s Who He is. God loves because God loves. God’s love is everlasting. God’s love is not an obligation. God’s love is the real deal - feeling and affection that God experiences towards us.
We’ve seen this since Genesis and Adam and the Fall and our sin that separates us from God - our depravity - and all of the evil we entangle ourselves in - since Genesis we’ve seen God working through real people in real places in real time in real circumstances - relentlessly and purposefully - because of His great love for us - God working to make right what is wrong - God choosing to make right what’s broken in our relationship with Him.
Hear in that God’s word to you this morning. “I love you.” Put your name there: “Steve. I love you.”
The Question - going on in verse 2: But you say, “How have you loved us?”
In response to God’s declaration, “I have loved you”, the people ask, “How have You loved us?” Put another way, “Where is Your love? We don’t see any evidence that You’ve loved us.”
Looking at the nation of Israel - at the time Malachi was writing - the honesty and despair of the question is understandable.
Malachi and his contemporaries. After 70 years of exile and 3 waves of returnees - living in Jerusalem - they’d heard about the glory days of the kingdom but that was 150 years ago.
Doing the math - 150 years takes us back to just after the Civil War. The returnees coming back would be about the time of our Spanish American war. How many of us have direct contact with that?
Maybe we’ve known people who went through World War II - maybe the Great Depression - or World War I. But beyond that - what life was like in America - we’re reading - or Wikipedia-ing. And what we’ve heard from our grandparents - what we might share with our children - and our grandchildren - that’s mythology.
Generation next is growing up in post-exile Jerusalem. The glory days of David’s kingdom. The Temple Solomon built. We see some of that in the ruins here. We’ve been told about it.
But Moses and the Exodus. God and the plagues and all that. Moses - and God choosing Israel to “ahavah” on - all that is a mythology. Life before the exile is some glorified religious dream that a dying generation is hanging on to. What has God done for us lately?
God’s people - living in the ghetto Jerusalem - knowing the promises of God to Abraham - to them - of a coming Messiah king and kingdom - God’s presence in a new Temple - nations streaming to Jerusalem to worship God - all of what this loving God has promised them - now here they are and yet they’re not seeing the fulfillment of those promises.
Let’s be honest. Look around. This place is a ruinous dump. If we’ve got anything going for us it’s because of what we’ve carved out of these ruins and because of the deals we’ve cut with the Persians. It’s our hard work and investments and cleverness and wisdom.
So here in Persian occupied Jerusalem where is that God today? If He really loves us why are we living like this? If this is what it means to be loved by God - to be His chosen people - it’s too bad He didn’t choose someone else.
Sharing a little of how I relate to this. In 301 AD Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its national religion. That choice hasn’t always gone so well for us. It’s led to centuries of conflict and war and subjection and poverty and genocide. This little nation clinging to its Christian identity surrounded by empires and religions bent on its conversion or extermination.
In 1988 there was an earthquake in Armenia that left 25,000 dead and thousands wounded and homeless. I was on TV telethon raising funds for relief work with lots of people from the community appealing for donations. During the program I remember a singer sang a song that seemed to typify the question coming from this Christian people - after centuries of everything we’ve been through and now this. She sang, “Where is God?”
Where is this God of love that supposedly cares for His people?
We can hear the Jews, “This
is what it means to be loved by God? How have you
loved us? We’re
not seeing it. Maybe
next time think about choosing someone else.”
When we come to Christ that doesn’t insulate us from the world we live in. In reality, when we come to Christ we become targets. Satan and his minions working over time to take us out. To discourage us. To get us to give up and go back on our commitment to Christ. Come to Christ and in many ways things get worse.
Life goes on that way. Ever look at your life and ask the same question? Is this what it means to follow the God Who loves me?
Why am I continually getting hammered? How did I end up here? Why the illness? Why the rejection? Why the tragedy? Why is life just so dog on hard? Why the... whatever…?
Where is God’s love when my spouse abandons me? When my child dies? In my hang-ups and addictions and failure where is this God who says He loves me?
[The Answer] God’s Answer comes - going on in verse 2: “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’”
Jacob and Esau are familiar figures. Reading verses 2 to 4 some of you are probably already thinking about the events in their lives. It’s important - in thinking through how God’s answer applies to us that we understand exactly what God is saying here.
I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. Is Scriptures way of explaining in our distorted by sin limited human reasoning and understanding what the sovereign holy infinite God who loves us is doing in real time.
First - we need to understand that God has made a choice to love His people in Jerusalem just as He - God - had made a choice to love Jacob.
Today we use the word “love” in a number of different ways. I love my wife - Karen. I love football. Obviously I don’t love football with the same passion and devotion that I love Karen. Given a choice between Karen and football - Karen wins every time.
The Jews looked at love differently than we do. If you didn’t love someone with all your heart - even though you might like them - if you didn’t love someone with all your heart - then they said that you hated them.
In Genesis we read that Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel with all his heart. Jacob loved Leah too. He was tender and caring towards Leah. But Jacob didn’t love Leah with the same passion and devotion - not with all his heart - that he loved Rachel. Genesis 29:31 says that when God saw that Leah was “unloved” - literally “hated” by Jacob - God opened her womb.
Second - we need to understand that God’s choice to love does not exclude Jacob from hardship.
God’s love gives us hope in hardship. But God’s love isn’t a “get out of hardship free” card.
Both Jacob and Esau had opportunities to respond to God’s love and grace. Despite Jacob’s struggles to trust God - throughout Genesis we read that Jacob had a heart for God. Through all those struggles Jacob learned to trust God - to turn towards God.
Esau never had a heart for God. Esau despised his birthright - sold it all for some stew. The results of this choosing are seen through history - an illustration of it is here for us in verses 3 and 4.
Esau became the father of the Edomites. The Edomites - through-out their history - the Edomites never chose to turn to God. They became the enemies of Israel - and God. No matter how much they tried to build up their country ultimately they failed. They were over-run by the tragic - hopeless - events of their history.
Where is Edom today? There’s no Edomite ambassador to the United Nations. God just wasn’t with them.
In contrast Jacob became Israel. But, that didn’t mean the end of hardship.
Jacob faced heartache when faced with the alleged death of Joseph. His family faced famine and a struggle for survival that forced them from their homeland - down to Egypt - and slavery.
But, God was faithful to his promises. Jacob’s 12 sons became the heads of the 12 tribes. God returned His people to the land He promised them. Through the descendants of Jacob came Jesus our Savior. For four thousand years - even in genocide - God has not forgotten His people.
This is the declaration in verse 5: Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”
Israel - you who are asking for evidence that I love you - look at what I have done even beyond your borders - even in Egypt - even in Babylon - and you will rejoice in My presence within your borders.
That you are a nation that I chose - on a land that I gave you - with a hope that I’ve promised you - despite your rejection of Me - is because I “ahavah” you.
Processing all that...
Thinking through God’s answer for us today - what we should not quickly passed by - what we should keep in the forefront of our thinking every day - is that God has chosen to love us.
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Good news: God loves us. Goes beyond our ability to comprehend. But it’s true. God loves you.
Bad news: We’re all perishing. God is holy - without sin. And we’re not. Meaning we all face eternity apart from God. Perishing is not a good thing.
Good news: God gave His Son. Jesus - His work on the cross. Jesus did everything that needed to be done to make our relationship with God right.
You choose: “Whoever believes” Everyone of us has to a make an individual choice of how we’re going to respond to what God did for us through what Jesus did. Choose to believe and God by grace gives us life forever with Him.
What does it mean that God gave His only Son?
The prophet Isaiah - starting in Isaiah 40 - writes for 12 chapters of God’s deliverance of Israel - from judgement and exile. 12 chapters of encouragement and comfort. 12 chapters of expectation leading to what must be a mighty warrior - a deliverer - a Messiah like David. 12 chapters that those returning from exile would have been familiar with - questioning God about and God’s love.
In chapter 53 - Isaiah shifts to a man - a Servant - unattractive - unimposing - not someone who would stand out in a crowd. Isaiah begins chapter 53 with the words: “Who has believed what he has heard from us?”
After hearing all those prophecies no one would expect this. Human expectations just don’t go there. What an unexpected change from what God’s people were waiting for.
Isaiah 53 describes the Servant - the Messiah - Jesus. I urge you today to go back and read Isaiah 53… slowly.
Isaiah writes about our griefs - our sorrows - our transgressions - our iniquities - how each of us is like a sheep gone astray. We’ve turned from God to following our own way. To our rebellion against God. To what is unholy. To what brings unending grief and sorrow.
What is our total depravity. There is nothing within us that’s worthy of God’s approval. And in how we live life - every one of us displays our depravity as thoroughly and completely as we can.
Sin is a horror - a bondage and corruption in this life - unleashed by our enemy Satan - a horror unleashed on mankind which weighs down our hearts - burdens our souls - tears at the fabric of humanity - destroys our homes and society - corrupts the Church - robs us of the ability to be whom God has created us to be and to enjoy Him forever. Waiting ahead is judgment and eternal separation from God.
Through the language of suffering - Isaiah writes that the Servant - Jesus bears our griefs - our sorrows - our transgressions - our iniquities. For us.
God gave His Son to exile among men - to be born in a manger - to work in a carpenter’s shop - to be among scribes and Pharisees - and their cruel tongues and slander. He gave His Son to hunger and thirst - amid poverty and desire. For us.
He is beaten and scourged - flesh ripped from His body. Thorns driven into his head. Spikes driven into His hands and feet. The ultimate agony of crucifixion. He is disfigured - deformed - made unrecognizable. For us.
And on the cross - Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” (Mark 15:34) “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” - God hides His face from Him. God gave Him to be made a curse for us - gave Him that He might die, “the just for the unjust, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). For us.
He is despised and rejected - by us. For us.
John Calvin: “When we behold the disfigurement of the Son of God, when we find ourselves appalled by his marred appearance, we need to reckon afresh that it is upon ourselves we gaze, for He stood in our place.” (1)
In verse 10, Isaiah parallels the truth of John 3:16 - God “gave”. Isaiah writes: “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief.”
God gave. God crushed His only Son. For us.
Listen to the words of the theologian Sinclair Ferguson - quoted by C.J. Mahaney: “When we think of Christ’s dying on the cross we are shown the lengths to which God’s love goes in order to win us back to Himself. We would almost think that God loved us more than He loves His son. We cannot measure His love by any other standard. He is saying to us, ‘I love you this much.’
The cross is the heart of the gospel; it makes the gospel good news. Christ died for us; He has stood in our place before God’s judgment seat; He has borne our sins. God has done something on the cross which we could never do for ourselves. But God does something to us as well as for us through the cross. He persuades us that He loves us.” (2)
The good news is that God loves us so deeply, that He gave, to the perishing, His Son, so that by faith - our welcoming what He has graciously done on our behalf - God gives to us eternal life.
God takes our unrighteousness and places it on His only Son and takes the righteousness of His only Son and places it on us - forever. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
What more does God need to do to persuade us that He has loved us?
Hold on to that as you head out of here into out there. Keep focused on the truth of this for you.
God’s love is an objective reality. Not subjective. Objective is fixed - unchanging - the choice of THE sovereign God to “ahavad” us because of Who He is. The objective reality - the truth of God’s love that sends Jesus to the cross.
Hear this: God’s love isn’t subject to how we feel in the moment about our circumstances.
God’s love for us doesn’t change because we live in a ruined city ruled by Persians or because of some natural disaster or because someone drives over people on a sidewalk or shoots people in a church or when our spouse walks out or the doctor tells us we don’t have long to live or our memory no longer works or we’ve failed again coming face-to-face yet one more time with our inadequacies and weakness - our penchant to sin.
To the world the good news of God’s love is foolishness. But the good news of God’s choice is the truth we need to hang on to in every circumstance of our lives - especially when we are tempted to ask, “How has God loved us?”
Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (NASB)
God has chosen to love us - you - me. It’s impossible to understand what this means. We see the example of it in Jesus Christ. And yet, we wonder at His love.
This morning you may be wondering where God’s love is. God knows your questions. He knows your circumstances. God loves you. You may be a Jacob who struggles with God - an Esau who needs to turn to God. Maybe we cannot understand what it means that God loves us. His love is beyond our experience. Yet, we each need to accept His love.
Let the weight of God’s message sink into your heart this morning: “I have loved you.”
1. John Calvin - quoted by C.J. Mahaney, “Living the Cross Centered Life” (Sovereign Grace Ministries, Multnomah, 2006), page 53.
2. Sinclair Ferguson, Grow in Grace (Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth, 1989) - quoted by C.J. Mahaney, “Living the Cross Centered Life” (Sovereign Grace Ministries, Multnomah, 2006), page 56.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.